With their camera phones held aloft, military personnel and civilians aboard the USS Wasp waited for the perfect shot: the USS Constitution gliding past at the precise moment that six Blue Angels fighter jets in tight formation streaked by overhead.
For Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, the convergence of so much military history was a highlight of the Independence Day celebrations.
“It’s pretty thrilling,” Mabus said. “Not a bad way to spend the Fourth of July.”
Hundreds gathered Wednesday on the USS Wasp, an amphibious assault ship docked in South Boston, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.
That war — between the United States and Great Britain over trade restrictions and the impressment of US merchant sailors — was a pivotal moment in America’s history, navy officials said at the ceremony. It was also the source of American cultural hallmarks like “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“The lasting impact of this war was, in many ways, greater than the war itself,” Mabus declared in a speech to the crowd of active-duty service members and civilians on the ship’s deck. “The Navy that emerged from the War of 1812 was truly a global navy, and many symbols of America were borne out of this conflict.”
The demonstration was the headline event for Boston Navy Week, a weeklong celebration of the United States’ maritime achievements that began last Friday. In addition to a flyover by the Blue Angels, the USCGC Eagle and the Constitution conducted a 19-gun salute as they passed the USS Wasp. The US Navy Parachute Team, also known as the Leap Frogs, parachuted onto Fan Pier, one carrying an 800-square-foot American flag.
Admiral Mark Ferguson, vice president of naval operations , said organizers of Navy Week were pleased to see the sun made an appearance on a day that started out looking dreary.
“I know that they were very anxious,” Ferguson said. “But once again, Boston comes through for us.”
In his speech, Mabus took time to praise the way that the military is changing. Women, he pointed out, now serve in almost every sector of the Navy. This country, he said, is “too dependent on foreign oil.” Mabus projected that by 2020, at least half of all naval operations will be powered by energy sources other than fossil fuels.
“Our naval heritage will not only persevere — it will continue to prevail,” Mabus said.
As civilians and crew onboard snacked on shrimp cocktail and fruit kebabs, they listened to a mix of tunes old and new. The USO Liberty Bells, a trio of singers in pin-up-style red, white, and blue dresses, performed 1940s classics like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “I’ll Be Seeing You” while the Navy Band Northeast performed more contemporary hits, including a few from Lady Gaga.
Boston natives Jennifer Fahey, 41, and Karen Kelleher, 54, said they were pleasantly surprised to have experienced one of their best Independence Days aboard the USS Wasp. Fourth of July in Boston is usually packed with exciting events and impressive celebrations, they said, but the Navy Week demonstration took their breath away.
“It’s been spectacular,” Fahey said. “This year we’re absolutely pulling out all the stops.”
Whytnee Bush, 24, of Brookline, said experiencing the Fourth of July on the deck of an imposing naval ship was a helpful reminder of America’s maritime achievements.
“It made me feel really American,” Bush said. “When they played the ‘Star-Spangled Banner,’ it really brings you back to the history of this country. It all felt uniquely American.”
Thirteen-year-old Jared Kiihne of Concord spent much of the afternoon climbing in and out of military helicopters stationed on the ship’s deck, asking Marines about each switch, lever, and dial.
“You can see the way everything works,” Kiihne said. “It was pretty cool.”
For Lieutenant Paddy Doran, who is currently stationed on the USS Wasp, Fourth of July was less about the impressive naval and aerial exercises and more about his company: his wife, Air Force Captain Krysta Doran, who is stationed in North Carolina.
After spending the last two weeks at Fleet Weeks in Florida and New York City, he said he had about had his fill of naval ceremonies. But two things made his Fourth of July special: the reunion with his wife and the beautiful view of Boston Harbor.
“Boston’s a lot better than Fort Lauderdale,” he said.